Many graduates begin their job search after university but find themselves in the same complicated position: they need experience to get a job, but need a job to get experience. Although this can be frustrating, there are a number of ways to get around it and you probably have more experience than you think! Here are our 10 top tips on how to write a CV with no previous work experience.
1. Nail your opening statement
Your personal statement is the first thing your potential employer will read on your CV. You never get a second chance at a first impression, so make sure it stands out. Think of it as your own personal elevator pitch. We recommend keeping it short and sweet, around 150 words, providing a top-level overview of why you’d make a great candidate for the role and entice your recruiters to keep on reading. Hook them in with a concise explanation of your top skills, education level, degree subject and the role you are interested in.
2. Impress employers with your skills
A detailed description of your skills, and how you have applied them in real life, can be much more powerful than a list of your previous work experience - especially if your work experience is unrelated to your job application. It’s important to focus on transferable skills, such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving and remember to always provide examples to demonstrate your skills. For instance, you could describe a scenario at university where you were faced with a challenge and used your problem-solving skills to overcome this in a timely and organised manner, highlighting your ability to work well under pressure, too. Avoid exaggerating when giving examples as recruiters will be able to see through this.
If you’re looking for some inspiration for your skills list, take a look at the job description you’re applying for!
3. Include all your skills, however trivial they may seem
It’s easy to forget to include some of your more ‘obvious’ skills on your CV when they do not specifically relate to the role you are applying for. However, it is important to list any skills which may be useful, whether they are directly related to your job or not. Some examples include: if you have a driver’s license, software skills or foreign languages, even if you’re not fluent.
4. Talk about your degree and educational achievements
A typical CV will contain a list of all your schools, universities, additional qualifications and grades. Go one step further and delve into greater detail about what you’ve learnt during your years in education and what you’ve achieved. Maybe you’re particularly passionate about your university dissertation and believe it enhanced your research and presentation skills or perhaps you completed successful group projects which helped you build strong teamwork and organisational skills. You may have even earned a special award or recognition for your work which is definitely worth mentioning.
5. Don’t downplay your extra-curricular activities
While extra-curricular activities may not be paid work, they still provide ample opportunities for valuable learning and skills development. Whether it’s volunteering for beach clean-ups, taking part in marathons , putting on bake sales for charity or taking on the role as student union officer, you should prioritise your extracurricular activities on your CV, detailing how long you did them for and your main responsibilities. In many instances, extra-curricular activities provide much more valuable experience than any part-time retail or hospitality work you took on alongside your studies.
6. Tell them more about who you are as a person
It’s time to get personal. Many employers prefer that candidates include a short section for hobbies and interests on their CV. This helps them get a better picture of your personality and provides them with a few talking points for the interview stage. Also, since employers receive tons of applications, adding a personal touch will help make your CV more memorable.
It can also be beneficial if your hobbies are related to your job, such as coding for a software role or writing a personal blog if you want to go into journalism or publishing but don't worry if your hobbies aren’t revolutionary; it could be as simple as baking, going to the gym or gardening.
7. Tailor your CV to each role
If you’re applying to multiple jobs, it is key that you tailor your CV specifically to each different role as recruiters will be able to tell if you’ve submitted a generic CV. The best way to do this is to refer back to the job description and draw upon key elements to shape your application. You should also remember to adapt your opening statement and refer directly to the role you are applying for.
8. Use all the right buzzwords but not too many
Recruiters will scan your CV in search of the key skills they are looking for or may even use applicant tracking systems to do this for them. As such, you need to ensure that you’re using all the right words to catch your recruiter’s eye and get your CV shortlisted. We recommend using similar terminology you find in the job description to make sure your CV aligns with what they are looking for , or even browse similar listings online for more inspiration. Just make sure not to over-do it as this can make your CV come across as too generic!
9. Add a cover letter
Some job listings will give you the option to submit a cover letter alongside your CV. Since a CV is limited to a page or two, writing a cover letter gives you the opportunity to go into greater detail and show off your personality and skills, so when given the opportunity, it's best to take it. Read our top tips on how to write a cover letter.
For more career advice and graduate career opportunities, check out the FDM Graduate Career Programme.